August 14, 2012

It's Not A Memo...

by Chris Randall

For the last couple months, I've been trying to codify all my various thoughts about the shape the music industry is beginning to take now. Last night I sat down to write a post for this site on this very subject, and 4,400 words and four hours later I realized that I'd written what I will take extreme pains to point out is not a manifesto. More of a mission statement, really.

Since it is so long (much too long to post on this site as a single entry, and this blog doesn't have a multi-page post mechanism) I've rendered the whole thing as a PDF, which you can find here. I look forward to your comments and criticisms.


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Aug.14.2012 @ 9:48 PM
Pretty much nailed it.

Oh, and the first time I heard your stuff, back when I was in high school, my reaction was 'Fuck it. If this guy can do this and get a deal with WaxTrax, I am buying a god damn synthesizer'. Pretty much all downhill from there.

Aug.14.2012 @ 9:59 PM
Wade Alin
Chris, this is great. Thank you for sharing.

Aug.14.2012 @ 10:55 PM
Thanks, super read. Both well reasoned and well written.

Aug.14.2012 @ 11:12 PM
Had to log in after long years of lurking just to say: this is important. This means something. Thanks.

Aug.14.2012 @ 11:17 PM
Well done sir.

Aug.15.2012 @ 12:15 AM
I found myself gesturing at my screen and loudly exclaiming "Yes! Exactly!" several times while reading this. I think you've done a masterful job of articulating a vague idea that many people (myself included) have had on this topic, but never been able to fully form. Thank you.

Aug.15.2012 @ 12:24 AM
indeed a good read. is ok to link to the PDF and not to AI or will i lose rep points? just trying to make it as convenient as possible ;)

Aug.15.2012 @ 12:26 AM
Thanks, Chris. After reading your piece I feel I now must make good on my constant threats of finishing these damned tracks for a proper release. I sure could use some of these "rep credits" you are talking about.

Aug.15.2012 @ 12:34 AM
I'll be the first (only?) to voice any dissent, I suppose. I agree with a lot of what you say, but there's also a couple of misleading bits that I think warrant correction or at least discussion.

First, there's some places we agree completely. Most importantly is the subject of the value of music as experience. That is a point that is overlooked by all too many artists.

You're also absolutely right about musicians overvaluing their music. As a long time promoter of independent bands, I know all too well that many bands think they're worth a $500 guarantee even if they can't draw in 100 kids through the door at $2 a head.

Where I don't think you've got it right is on boiling it down to the value of bits and bytes, and essentially saying that the idea of paying for music is dead. You seem to make some assumptions that (in my opinion) derail some of your argument.

The suggestion that Napster was created "because they could" and with intent to destroy the music industry isn't really accurate. It's entirely possible that one or a few of the people involved in developing filesharing software were "bent on destruction", but as a whole - most people involved in it (from building the infrastructure to the actual participation in filesharing) had no thoughts whatsoever of changing the music industry.

The bottom line, as is being shown not just anecdotally but more importantly empirically is that people are more than happy to pay their favorite artists for their music -- however, inconvenience outweighs that willingness to pay.

People don't pirate music because they don't value it. They pirate it because:

1) We listen on phones, ipods and computers now anyway. CDs have no value to anyone but those of us (yep, me!) collectors who love having something tangible connected to the music, as well as album art, etc.

2) Since we're listening digitally, it's actually LESS convenient to have a CD. We have to do work to rip that CD just so we can tote the digital files around.

3) Let's reiterate number 2 -- I've downloaded albums I own physical copies of because that will take me less time than digging out the CD, popping it in my drive, ripping it and ID3 tagging the files.

4) The digital age of wanting free music is no different from how it was in the 80's and 90's. We consumed music for free ALL THE TIME. It was called MTV and FM radio and mix tapes, and you know what? Piracy didn't stop CD sales. Hearing music on the radio increased CD sales -- so much in fact that Payola was a "thing".

It's ALWAYS been this way. We listen to loads of music in the background and we buy the shit that's worth it.

Only difference is we lived in this weird ass technological era of transition where it was far more convenient to download the shit than it was to go out and buy the CD. Not only that, but it all came at the time when CD prices got jacked back up. The days of $9.99 CDs at Best Buy had come to an end.

We also live in a time where other forms of entertainment compete far more effectively with music for our attention. Video games have moved leaps and bounds ahead in terms of % of our time spent, as has browsing the internet. In the 80's, 90's and early 2000's for those without broadband, music was only pitted against movies and books, for the most part. Now there's way more out there. This does inherently make music worth a bit less, but not valueless.

I am digressing -- to bring it back to my point: Where I disagree with you is in abandoning the concept that music can and will be purchased by people, and in thinking that piracy in any way started out of some actual desire to bring down the music industry. Nobody but insiders knew enough about the industry back then to give a shit. Fanning and others just wanted to tinker with technology and make things easier on themselves. That's it.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the people who spoke to you at shows aren't even the main audience for buying music. They're the rabid audience, not the main audience. For the main audience, music isn't such a big part of their lives that they define themselves by it. It's just something they consume. These people aren't pirating it because they don't feel it has worth. They're pirating it because it's just not a form of entertainment they've ever taken that seriously, and it's the most convenient way of acquiring it.

Even today, we're still in a period where paying for music is either a pain in the ass or not worth the hassle due to idiotic DRM restrictions (yeah, I really want to buy digital downloads that stop working if I change operating systems or if the company that provided them to me goes out of business some day.. no thank you)

You're right about a lot of things here, but abandoning the idea that you can and should get paid for your work is to join the very people you're saying have missed the boat.

Sure, when Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead did it, everyone said "well, people bought their digital downloads directly because of the massive reputations they had, nobody else could pull that shit off!"...

But then some not-so-huge stars started doing it, and doing well at it. You've also got people in comedy doing it. Louis CK is hardly on Radiohead's level, and look at what he did. Jim Gaffigan followed suit and did quite well.

You're not wrong to focus on giving people experiences, and you're not wrong to give reputation some consideration. You're not even wrong to say "well, screw it, a number of people are going to hear my stuff and keep a copy of it but never give me a dime and I should figure out how bet to embrace that"..

but I do disagree strongly with the notion that music can't be sold anymore. It can. It's happening all the time, and you have more power than you've ever had in your life to do it. It's cheaper to make, you don't need anyone's help to distribute it, and you don't have to risk much to get started.

The musicians who succeed the most will be the ones who agree with you that they need to get their music out there to as many people as possible even if it's for free, and that they need to give people emotional experiences to make their music worthwhile, etc... but they will use all of these things, in concert with the power they have to make and distribute that music on their own, and they will sell it.

iTunes is selling a metric shit ton of music, as are other services like Google Play, etc. The idea of paying for music isn't dead. What's different is the sheer number of participants in the system due to the lower barrier to entry.

Musicians who figure out how to get noticed above the noise will still sell music.

Aug.15.2012 @ 12:57 AM
Chris Randall
I think I address your point about the old guard pretty succinctly in section three, if only in passing. In fact, I actually use the same closing sentence that you did, almost word for word. That's not what this is about, though. There is no reason someone can't do all the normal shit everyone is doing with TuneCore and Bandcamp. More power to you. Rock on, rock out. I do it myself.

Regarding your comments about the Napster boys, sorry, but that dog don't hunt. They knew exactly what they were doing, and while I exaggerated the "why" of it, I only did so mildly. It's difficult to exaggerate it, in all honesty. The early emails are a matter of public record as a result of the various court cases (cases, I'll note, they lost largely because of those emails.) I know several people that were in with that company from the get-go, and I myself was fairly involved with it, as a "sanctioned" content provider.

I'm only offering an alternative, one that already exists. Perhaps I'm the first one to say it out loud, but simply making art for art's sake, and not wondering how you'll be remunerated at the end of the day isn't such a bad thing. It is, in fact, worthy. But all I really want is for people that have top 10 hits under their belt to shut the fuck up with the whining already.


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